Updated: Feb 16, 2021
What separates the dreamers from the doers? Have you ever listened to someone who was professionally successful and wondered what was the difference between them and you? Or worse, have you thought, "Hell, why didn't I do that." It's a terrible feeling. Walking down the street of "What-ifs" is like walking through a nightmare of regret. If we are lucky, we never have to go down that road.
If I go back, WAY back. Let's say 1993, middle school, that's where I first got bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. On one bright and shiny Friday I witnessed my first side hustle. While minding my own business in line for "Hawk Treats," which consisted of candy and chips for the price of a few quarters, I saw a fellow classmate dealing in pogs. Do you remember pogs? They were these silver dollar sized coins you would slam to flip small stacks of other pogs. I'm internally laughing to think about it now through the lens of a parent as I sit here with my oldest child swiping on her Ipad. My, how times have changed, would kid today even get pogs? Did I even get pogs then? I don't know, I'll carry on. Okay, so this guy, I think his name was Chris, had pogs pouring out the sleeves of his zip up hoodie. He was brandishing them to kids waiting in line and offering them to the highest bidder. Interested buyers were stepping out of line to trade their parent-given-quarters for some most likely stolen pogs. I bet this kid's big brother later killed him. I was intrigued by this, but didn't have a product. Lord knows I couldn't scalp anything from Mona because she would most DEFINITELY kill me. I would just have to be clever and MAKE a product. Ready to laugh at my product? I made origami style flip phones. Yep, I built a tech company in the fourth grade. Impressed? My business model was pretty genius as it left room for a high return on investment. I would just ask my mom for more paper, she was a silent investor, as in she had no idea what I was up to because I was silent about it. And so, with the flick of a wrist, the steady of a pencil, I made "Zack Morris" style flip phones and sold them out of my desk. Now, I can't honestly remember the sequence of events, but I know that quickly there was competition. Out of the wood work other 4th graders started to really perfect the upgrade. You could buy my flip phone, drawn and shaded in pencil for the low low price of 50 cents, or another kid's design that included the use gel pens and stickers. Apple got this model from us, Mrs. Kelly's class. Soon, it was bedlam in Fourth Grade. You saw the deterioration of longstanding friendships as new competitive businesses sprung up all over our class. The phones got so good that you could hardly wait to purchase the newest model on Friday. Kids took out liens against their own property: pencil bags, trapper-keepers and slap bracelets to purchase new phones. Pretty soon the Hawk Treat lines were empty and some teachers finally wised up and shut us all down. I learned a valuable lesson. Starting a business is not going to be a fourth grade cake walk. I needed to have the passion, the persistence and plans to make my mark. I also needed to not get caught by the teacher.
I got older and wiser, sort of...
My first job, right out of college, showed me I was wanting something more than a clock-in, clock-out career. I worked as a receptionist and assistant to the Company's President. It was a great job to cut my teeth on as my co-workers where like a family. They even went so far as to indulge me when I decided I thought I wanted to open a mobile bakery, "Baileigh's Bakes." Thats right, I wanted to take my love for the confectionary and turn it into a side hustle like Chris. God rest his soul, and the souls of all those that loved pogs. I'm sure his brother killed him. It seemed like such a natural progression into success. I loved baking and I loved money. That was, until I discovered I was pregnant and my position as "taste-tester" doomed the project. I gained 80 pounds and built zero business. Shit. This time I had a belly full of passion but no persistence.
(I eat profits.)
We then moved to North Carolina where I thought I could build a custom crafting business, making wreaths, tablescapes and so on. This became somewhat lucrative as people began to hire me to set up their homes for Christmas. I enjoyed the work tremendously because I love decorating, design and being creative The catch was that every time I went into Hobby Lobby it was a "two for you, one for me" shopping trip which ate up my profits. (At least It was figuratively this time, I was still losing the baby weight from Baileigh's Bakes.) Damn this is hard. I thought the success fairy was just going to sprinkle me with pixie dust and I would magically transform into Martha Stewart. (This was pre-prison of course.) At the same time, I was also headlong into volunteering, which, fun fact, is EXPENSIVE. Between childcare, dues and the unknown odds and ends I needed a cash flow, quickly. My friend who was hugely successful in her multi-level-marketing company asked me to join. I had tested the products, I really liked the products therefore I thought... why shouldn't I sell the products? I loved the muli-level-marketing community, and most of all, I loved that it was empowering my friends to build businesses. However, after working it a while, I had to be honest with myself. If I kept going this road, I knew I could be successful, but was this really my passion? As much as I did not want to disappoint my friend, or my clients, I felt like I was being sidetracked from my ultimate goal. The more I kept investing time and money and reaping the rewards, the more I felt like I was further away from my own dreams. I was building someone else's dream. Like a boat getting sucked out by the current: you're enjoying the ride, and the stream, and the sun on your face, but you can see you are being pulled away from your intended landing spot. So every time I thought, ok, I am going to call my friend and tell her, "this isn't working for me," I would meet another benchmark, hit another level and my community would rejoice in my success. It was addicting. My need to please people became my biggest obstacle, transforming my drive to find my calling into a tiny dot on the shoreline. Shit. I was going to have to man up and speak my truth. So I made the call and luckily, my friend who I had always admired for so many reason, gave me yet another reason to admire her. She was full of understanding and grace. While she was saddened not to work with me anymore, she understood and moreover, encouraged me to continue to rise in whatever I did. That's a lady. We are still very good friends today and I love seeing HER passion as it is so evident in how she runs her business and her team. So, this time, I had the persistence but no passion.
(My crafting and sign painting days.)
It's 2014, I have two kids and was just offered a paying job with a top rated military charity. This organization afforded me the opportunity to work remotely, around my family's schedule with the addition of some travel from time to time. It was perfect, I was in. I thought, maybe this is how I am going to make that big difference in Washington? Maybe that pivot with lead right back to my first destination? This new position brought me back into the work force. So much had changed since I had first worked in an office. Seriously, it was a steep learning curve. Even though it had been a short time, I had to relearn the day-to-day, the lingo, it was embarrassing but also exciting. From how to run projects, formulate templates, set up conference calls and manage people, to making it all fit around nap times, meal times and school functions. The job fulfilled me in ways I had forgotten, and totally scratched that creative bug of my past. Since that time, to today, a huge chunk of my life has revolved around my job. My co-workers are far more like my family and my job is more like my identity. I'm blessed. But, as with all things, the Pandemic happened, and my role had to be cut back, not gone, but cut back. I get it, and I continue to be grateful they kept me on during these hard times. I really think if they just allowed all of the furloughed event-planners to organize the vaccination roll out, we'd be in business in no time. Who is with me?
So here I was this September... new job responsibilities, new country, new place, staring at a piece of paper with a logo and a tag line. I now had a lot more time on my hands. I thought back to 4th grade for a moment, and I remembered that childhood attitude I missed. When we are young, we just go for it. We just jump. We know what we want and just run towards it, like a middle school relay race. Is that the difference between the dreamers and the doers? Are the doers those that hang on to that childhood piece of themselves that doesn't focus so much on the fear but the goal? Could I find my inner 4th grade origami tycoon again in this pivot? I felt all my life, the small jobs, the big jobs, the side hustles, had come to this. So I grabbed my notepad and started writing. I am a firm believer that things happen when you put them to paper. My idea, was a small one, born out of a personal need but also a personal passion for detail, giving, and making people feel special. An app! There are a million apps and platforms to manage your professional life, what about your personal one? I could do this. So after Zac fell asleep that night I sketched out a pitch until about 3:00am. Enthralled with my idea, I could have stayed up all night. The more I researched, the more I read, the more my vision became clearer and more concrete in my head. You may have seen a woman, feverishly clicking and typing in the dim light of computer, but it paralleled the fourth grade me, creasing paper till my fingers hurt in the dim light of my 12 inch tv. This is where I fell in love with Nick-at-Nite and the Golden Girls in case you are wondering.
The next day I sat Zac down and gave him a play-by-play of all my true and honest feelings. I relayed to him that I would need investors, engineers and guidance to pull it off but I thought I could figure out what I did know and outsource what I didn't. I ran through my slides like an auctioneer on crack, then calmly asked him, "what do you think?" He sat blinking. This is what I do to him. Yesterday, I could barely look him in the face from embarrassment and today I am bombarding him like he's head of lettuce at a vegan convention. This guys needs a neck brace. He says calmly. "I'd invest in you any day of the week, I know you were made for big things" He then rattled off a litany of questions of which I had some answers but also more questions. I told him I had some people to call...
Enter a long time friend of mine who literally knows everyone. Like, everyone. I called and said, "Hey listen, I have this idea and I want to pitch it to you and I want to know if you know anyone in tech?" I got a very usual response, "Why yes, I not only know someone, I know someone that just sold his tech company and he's a genius. I'll connect you. Be sure to reach back out to me, I'd be willing to invest too." Holy shit Batman, I don't even have to put a lien on my pencil box. After setting a virtual date on the calendar, I waited for the day to come when I would pitch this idea to someone who had been coding since HE was in fourth grade. Not scary at all. The day came and I nervously started to pace... I needed something, I needed to calm down. My hands were shaking and my voice sounded shrill when I spoke. What if I bombed. What if I looked like a total idiot. Oh geeze. I picked up my phone and I did what I always do when I feel like this: I did it before my very first date, before I tried out for cheerleader, before I interviewed for my first big job...I danced. For a solid 30 minutes I danced around the apartment to everything from The Beastie Boys to No Doubt. I even pulled out some old cheerleading moves when Big Tymers queued up. I just couldn't help myself. It felt good. It felt so good I am sure my mentor wondered why I was so sweaty on our first call.
Slide by slide, I pitched my idea, and before I could finish he was spouting off lingo and ideas that made me feel like it was less a pitch and more "a meeting of the minds." Since that day, he has been there for every random question, every google meeting and every attempt to learn prototyping. Thats right, the girl who doesn't really understand the ICloud has been reading books about venture capitalism, studying tech giants and learning how to protoype for the Iphone. Does something in your life ever hit you over the head like a sledge hammer? Everything is coming full circle and the irony and timing is not lost on me. I'm going for it.
So, I won't share all the details as it is a start-up and there is a lot to be done. But this is my message to anyone out there that is reading this and mourning the shot they didn't take. The difference between the dreamers and the doers has nothing to do with intelligence... it's the people that took the step from zero to one. They jumped. It takes the kind of child-like courage to build something from nothing, and FURTHERMORE, to put your name on it. While the step from zero to one may be the hardest, if you shed the weight of doubt and dance it out, you'll get there. WE will all get there. From a single slip of paper... it starts.
To everyone who has written to tell me about their dreams, and pivots, and roads to success, I feel so blessed that you shared it with me. I am astounded to hear how much we all really have in common. Reminds me of my favorite poem by Maya Angelo, "The Human Family."
I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.
Cheers to all you dreamers and doers!
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